subjective report by Miki Ambrózy
This student leadership event was based on a couple of takeaways from painful learning experiences I went through. One, never do everything by yourself without a team. Two, always make sure that the benefits of events are clear to students (or any other audience).
Consequently, I had a team and I did make sure the students present turned up on the day to get something useful to apply in their clubs at school!
What was the big idea? In a world – read: school – where people are over-tasked, double-booked and extremely busy being busy, where to find time to actually let students practice ownership (leadership) without letting them fall or fail, while helping them see their impact on others?
The answer: within the informal learning activities organized at school. Traditionally, this is called education through arts, sports and service – and our school is really doing a great (i.e. demanding, ambitious, impressive, inspiring, wow etc.) job at two of these – perhaps to the point where our young people need to fight hard to establish new things…
It is a strong argument in favour of the International Baccalaureate that it has a personal development component (a.k.a CAS) – creating an excellent excuse to do other great things with and for students, beyond the time spent running from subjects to disciplines and back.
But if we are busy, do we really need another – the dreaded word comes here – new event? Perhaps with this reflection I desire to find an answer to this question.
We defined leadership in the spirit of scouting: the older generation inspiring the younger generation. Leadership is inspiring others to go into action by being the example yourself – credits go to the YMCA of Thessaloniki, the last (?) great bastion of youth work in Greece.
What was in the plan?
We explicitly taught and practised life skills, with teacher volunteers taking on and leading some blocks of time on topics, assisted by a group of volunteering students (National Honour Society). To be honest, volunteering students were told they are to assist us, it wasn’t a classical “sign-up if you’re interested” situation, but more on that later.
Much of the basic programme was pulled off the workshop given to us by the well-known teacher trainer Amy Kines, who worked with our staff on basics of leadership in schools in August 2016.
Did the programme work? Absolutely. The day was hands-on, light, dynamic, with shared distribution of tasks and leadership within and across the sessions.
Students seem to have felt that they have the floor and their ideas are appreciated and taken seriously. They all reported learning something or other about themselves or for their own work as leaders, whatever sense we give to that concept.
Why did it work? First, little preparation was required on the side of the teachers’ team (except for myself that I took on areas we never seem to tackle). Second, I proposed colleagues to lead sessions on themes or topics they liked or had experience with. Third, our wonderfully hardworking National Honor Society students delivered all the small tasks needed to make the event roll (relatively) smoothly, with an outstanding lunch organized by four of them.
On the programme, we had:
- Our superstar theatre educator did a collective warm-up and movement exercise, bringing everyone’s energies to a relaxed, cheerful level.
- Our powerful economics-business teacher duo did a detailed input on planning events.
- Our dean of students delivered her favorite tool for assessing one’s working style, and what our behavioral patterns are. Students were then asked to reflect using dramatization.
- We delivered a short session on the life of groups (forming – storming – norming – performing), and added a pitching exercise to practice impressing one’s (small) audience with amazing ideas.
- Our cheerful social sciences teacher worked with leadership profile cards, where students identify qualities in themselves, before revealing well-known world leaders that they resemble. (In a truly internationally-biased-minded fashion, the leaders are mostly chosen from a Judeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxon cultural tradition.)
- I delivered a session on writing targeted communication and organized a simulation of beyond-school phone calls, where students called a list of people on the phone to talk about an imaginary research project on careers.
- We invited the Jane Goodall foundation’s team to talk about service learning in the context of the ongoing migration crises in the world, helping students think of practical, immediate ways to provide relief.
What to improve?
Well, telling students they are to volunteer is called forced volunteering – or applying unclear expectations (since this event wasn’t on the list of events this group traditionally organizes). Yet, the presence of 12th grade students made a positive impact, their qualities and level of sophistication made sure that the younger generation has models to follow and be inspired by.
Here are some things to further consider for a future edition:
- Timing needs to match importance. Saturdays are busy for most students for one reason or other. Clashing with other highly beneficial extra-curricular activities is to be avoided (e.g. high school play).
- Attendance must be fully voluntary. Better to have a smaller group with the really motivated, than a larger group with ones who don’t want to be there.
- Club leaders must attend by definition – this point shouldn’t be up for negotiation.
- Only a full day’s participation should be allowed (in an ideal world) – so that the right group atmosphere can develop, creating bonds across the grade levels as well.
That’s all from the office of a creative coordinator. We must wait and see the impact to decide if we keep the event on the long list of events (and on the shorter list of truly student-led events).